A nondescript corner of what could be just about any urban city street in America. Nothing of overwhelming interest, just the usual commercial buildings, traffic signals, and small businesses. A self-storage facility. Pretty typical in a Commercial district. Here, the "C-4 District."
Nothing at all, in fact, to indicate that just over a century ago, this was the site of what was to become one of the most important land use cases in U.S. history -- the place that gave us the first Supreme Court decision that dealt with how the expanding power to regulate the uses of property meshes with private property rights.
For this area -- the block southeast of the corner of Pico and Crenshaw Boulevards -- was once a Los Angeles brickyard owned by Joseph C. Hadacheck.
What is now the Arlington Heights neighborhood was once outside of the city limits. Indeed, Hadacheck's title went back to the original Mexican land grant -- as most Central and Southern California land titles do -- to a former alcalde of the Los Angeles Pueblo. This parcel was originally a part of the massive Rancho Los Cienegas.
Eventually the rancho was subdivided and parceled off, and Hadacheck, according to the U.S. Supreme Court's opinion, purchased the parcel in 1902 because the clay deposits made it an ideal place to manufacture the bricks needed for the rapidly expanding metropolis. California, you see, "did not have great paving brick manufacturers like other states mainly because of the scarcity of good vitrified clay deposits." This property was prime: as the Court noted, the "clay upon his property is particularly fine, and clay of as good quality cannot be found in any other place within the city where the same can be utilized for the manufacture of brick."
Today's Bronson Avenue (pictured below) was then the driveway entrance to Hadacheck's property.
Brickmaking, as you might expect, was a messy affair, involving large hole in the ground to dig out the clay, and fire-stoked drying kilns. When Hadacheck's manufacturing plant was far from the city, the noise, dust, and smoke it produced was not a big problem.
But Los Angeles was growing, and in 1909, the Hadacheck property was annexed by the city, and became subject to its jurisdiction. The surrounding land -- the site of at least one other brickyard -- came into the sights of the land speculators and developers. In the mid-aughts, the nearby area was developed as single-family homes. Some of these homes were, and remain today, pretty nice. Mostly arts-and-crafts style, if that sort of thing floats your boat.
One of these developments -- developed by "a syndicate of a dozen prominent business men" was an area they labeled "Victoria Park." Had a nice ring to it, and today, the area is still called Victoria Park.
They built the homes around an oval street. One of the only two oval streets in LA. Even today.
They also apparently planted palm trees on that street. Lots of palm trees.
Tony residences nearby a noisy, smoke-and-dust-belching industrial site. Victoria Park, you see, is just a few blocks from the Hadacheck site and even closer to another brickyard, Hubbard & Chamberlain. The photo below shows how close. The Hadacheck site at the corner of Pico and Crenshaw was where the Bekins building and sign is, and the Hubbard brickyard was right across the street.
You land users can predict what this meant: a conflict between an existing possibly noxious use, and late-coming residents (whom today we might label "NIMBY's."). This might have resulted in a your run-of-the-mill tort nuisance case, with a claim by the residential owners that Hadacheck's use of his property interfered with theirs, and a defense by him that he was there first, and thus they "came to the nuisance."
But it didn't play out that way. As the U.S. Supreme Court noted in Hadacheck v. Sebastian, 239 U.S. 394 (1915), the City Council of Los Angeles, over the veto of Mayor George Alexander, used its police powers to adopt an ordinance prohibiting brickyards in "certain districts." And when referring to "certain districts" the Council pretty much meant this area. Because the only two brickyards subject to this ordinance were Hadacheck's and the other brickyard, Hubbard & Chaimberlain, located directly across Pico from the entrance to Victoria Park.
Remember that "syndicate of a dozen prominent business men" who developed Victoria Park, whose residents were now overwhelmed by the nearby brickyards? One of those "business men" was none other than Josias J. Andrews, who just so happened to be a member of the Los Angeles City Council, and who chaired the Council's Legislative Committee.
According to The History of California and an Extended History of Los Angeles and Environs (1915), Mr. Andrews:
... is a Progressive and he is altogether progressive in profession and practice in the broadest sense of the word. He was twice elected to the city council and during the time of his service was active in procuring the passage of various progressive measures. He was a strenuous advocate of the law which later as incorporated in the city charter limiting the height of new buildings, and was instrumental in having it passed.
Brickyards in other parts of LA where Councilmember Andrews didn't have investments were not subject to similar ordinances, and even where there were conflicts with residences, existing brickyards were given several years to wind down.
But not in this case. The ordinance made it a crime to continue to operate, and apparently Mr. Hadacheck tried to do other things with his land: he obtained a building permit for a two-story residential building on Pico, and there's evidence he allowed the use of the clay pit as a dump site. But apparently, he kept up the brickmaking, because he was charged with a misdemeanor and convicted under the ordinance and was remanded to the custody of the LA police chief.
You know the rest of the story: he brought a habeas corpus action challenging the constitutionality of his confinement, arguing that the regulations severely devalued his property (he argued that before the regulations, the property was worth $800,000, but after, only $60,000), and that he was being singled out. He also argued the land was not really useful for anything but brick manufacturing (a claim belied by the future uses of the site as single-family homes), as shown here, along Bronson Avenue:
These aren't homes of the Victoria Park standard, mind you, but still pretty nice.
Even though the courts accepted Hadacheck's argument that he was not creating a nuisance, he lost in the California Supreme Court, and eventually in the U.S. Supreme Court, which held that it didn't matter that the brickyard wasn't a common-law nuisance, because the city could exercise its police power to prohibit uses, even where those uses predated the regulation:
It may be that brickyards in other localities within the city where the same conditions exist are not regulated or prohibited, but it does not follow that they will not be. That petitioner's business was first in time to be prohibited does not make its prohibition unlawful. And it may be, as said by the supreme court of the state, that the conditions justify a distinction. However, the inquiries thus suggested are outside of our province.
There are other and subsidiary contentions which, we think, do not require discussion. They are disposed of by what we have said. It may be that something else than prohibition would have satisfied the conditions. Of this, however, we have no means of determining, and besides, we cannot declare invalid the exertion of a power which the city undoubtedly has because of a charge that it does not exactly accommodate the conditions, or that some other exercise would have been better or less harsh. We must accord good faith to the city in the absence of a clear showing to the contrary and an honest exercise of judgment upon the circumstances which induced its action.
Hadacheck, 239 U.S. at 413-14.
The rest, as they say, is history: the Hadacheck decision became the foundation on which the constitutionality of all zoning law is built, and today, we still have yet to resolve completely the tension between the police power to regulate property, and the rights of private property owners.
And what of Mr. Hadacheck? After he lost his brickyard business, what became of him? We don't exactly know, for certain. But we do know that in a nearby cemetery, there's a grave for one "J.C. Hadacheck," who died in 1916 at the young age of 48, less then seven months after the Court issued its opinion.
Is this the same "J.C. Hadacheck" who petitioned the Supreme Court? We're not sure, but we wouldn't be surprised. Not knowing for sure, our imagination wanders to a fanciful story where Mr. Hadacheck, having been played by the City Council, the NIMBY's, and the courts, simply gave up the ghost after realizing that even though he made the bricks that built the city, his usefulness, and his time, had passed.